“Look, a rainbow,” Kayla squealed, peering from the window of the bedroom she shared with Kelsey, her twin sister. Two pairs of rubber boots clomped down the stairs and out the back door. The striped band arched over acres of field. Hands linked, the girls ran to the edge of their yard.
“I’ll go right,” Kelsey panted.
“But you went right last time,” Kayla whined.
“Fine, you go right,” Kelsey reasoned, her eyes watching the dissipating arches. “First one to find the end wins. Three, two, one, go!”
The rain misted Kelsey’s face as her feet pushed through the mud, her boots fighting to stay on her feet. She turned her head to see the yellow wisp of her sister’s hair as she flew in the opposite direction before turning her face to the sky and the colors that curved over her.
The kaleidoscope’s rolling beads, tumbling between colors, made Kelsey implode with memories. The lens held the moving beads to it, even when she tilted the tube back with her shaved head, her head that was cancerless, but full of tumorous thoughts of her dying twin. Kayla had given her the kaleidoscope that morning when she said that next month instead of applying for college, or even starting senior year, she would be going to a special children’s hospital four hours away in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.
Kayla said it held all six colors of the rainbow at an end less than a foot from her nose. Kelsey’s nose. Kayla had always loved rainbows for the colors, but Kelsey loved the mystery in them. The challenge to try to discover what really happened at the end.
The blood dripped from Kayla’s nose onto her dinner plate, scarlet speckled mashed potatoes catching her pain. Spoiled dinners. Ruined shirts. Loss of twinness. The side effects the doctor’s forgot to warn them about. The ones that made “acting normal” harder than it sounded.
Her heart was an exact copy of Kayla’s, but didn’t that mean their brains were copies and if her sister had brain cancer, then shouldn’t she? If their hearts were copies, then they should last for the same amount of time, the same number of beats. Kelsey wanted to ask the team of doctors they met, but she didn’t think they would understand: none of them were twins.
The one thing the doctors did do was give it a name. Medulloblastoma. A tumor that started in the brain and often invaded the spinal cord. Kelsey’s own blood from her finger nails when they cut into her palms as she watched her reflection across the table, wiping her lips and nostrils as tears flowed parallel to hemoglobin. The doctors explained there was nothing more to do. They arranged for a hospital bed to be brought to the house, moving Kayla back home as her face deteriorated from the one Kelsey saw in the mirror every morning.
Scrapes on Kelsey’s skin traced where her sobs had pushed the razor into her head. Matted scratches and scabs where she had thought about breaking into herself to find the only healthy brain that shared a soul with her sister. She prayed she wouldn’t damage it –that it would be usable when they found her on the bathroom floor. Her anger when her mother found her, blond curls piled at her feet and razor in hand.
Last January, crude suns radiating rainbows had been plastered all over the walls of their room. The drawings had been part of Kayla’s self-prescribed treatment. She had said that art made her feel happy, even though her sick brain wouldn’t let her fingers create the precision she desired. It made her think nothing was wrong, and as long as she drew light, she couldn’t see the darkness running towards her. Kelsey had asked why the suns were orange instead of yellow. Kayla had said orange felt warmer to her, and if she felt warmth, she wasn’t gone yet.
By February, the morning tangerine rays peeking through their window had given Kayla severe headaches. Everything had given her headaches. Within a week, Kelsey and the sketches were in the guest room, and thick, black curtains were hung in Kayla’s half empty room.
Kelsey started watching sun showers from the bathroom window.
Kayla’s pencils sat in her desk drawer untouched. Her difficulty to write had been the first sign of her sickness back in the mid-winter of junior year. They had been practicing for the spring SAT they had registered for, and Kayla’s fingers just couldn’t remember how to grip the wooden rod. Their parents canceled Kayla’s registration the same day they made the appointment with the brain tumor specialist.
The therapist wore a yellow tie for their first family session –the session that Kelsey had held Kayla’s hair for as she chemo-vomited into the trashcan. The therapist had offered her paper from the legal pad he was taking notes on. It was to collect the clumps of hair in that had slipped out of their pores as Kayla poured her lunch into the gray trashcan, a gray that matched the brain cancer ribbon pinned to their mother’s blouse.
Yellow was the color of Kayla’s first wig. She had still wanted it to look natural, normal, healthy then. Kayla hadn’t wanted to look different from Kelsey, who still had had blond curls to wash every morning. She had been trying to make sure people could keep mixing them up. That they could pity both equally as the one losing and the one being lost.
It was Kelsey’s favorite color of the rainbow because sometimes it melded with the blue making it as hard to find as the Irish green-clothed men at the ends they chased. It was Kayla’s favorite color too because it made their eyes pop like two pairs of gleaming emeralds stuffed into balls of bone, white dough. It had always made her feel pretty in a natural way, but the cancer stole the light and shine from her eyes, turning them to dull, blank stares, and Kelsey, seeing the sick green of her sister’s face as she hunched over the trash can in the therapist’s office or the bathroom toilet or the grass bordering their driveway, wished their eyes were blue.
It was Kayla’s vomit that came before she even got the chemo because brain cancer gave morning sickness like a new mother, but the thing growing inside Kayla wasn’t beautiful. And she wanted it aborted from her body.
Kayla’s second wig was blue. She didn’t care anymore about looking the same as Kelsey. There was no hiding she was sick in the hospital. Kelsey ran her hand over her own smooth head as she asked why Kayla even bothered with the wig when the other children just wore beanies. Kayla said having blue hair was the craziest thing her body, her cancer, allowed her to do. There was no more art, no more running after weather phenomenons, no sunshine for her. All that was left was silence and blue hair.
When they had a race for the children’s hospital, the shirts they gave the marathoners to wear were blue. Kayla couldn't go watch, her movements being eaten by the tumor, her headaches confining her to dark spaces, but Kelsey ran for her. Her sneakers pounding into the blue asphalt, the September sun burning her bare head. But the miles didn’t run her farther away from the inevitable. All the sponsors could not pay for a cure.
The big, empty sky of October as the season of sun showers came to a close.
Their matching prom dresses had cascaded to the floor in the mirror of the dress shop. Kelsey’s would stay in a bag in her closet, never worn outside of the store. Not going to the dance, spending the night in the cemetery, had been her tribute to her sister. The picture of the two of them beaming in the threefold mirror still wallpapered her phone. They had found the dresses in December of their junior year –one month before they found out about the cancer. They still looked like clones of the same healthy girl then. Their parents had been crazy enough to buy the dresses to put aside for senior year in addition to the green ones they had found for their junior prom. They never thought the girls wouldn’t be going to their senior prom. They never thought they would have one less child by the next December. Kayla’s was now disintegrating in her sealed, wooden coffin. A permanent place of darkness and relief of headaches.
Kelsey twisted the kaleidoscope watching the colors fall into a new design. The new summer season begged chances to chase rainbows. But Kelsey didn’t know which end to run towards anymore.
Amanda Schader is a Creative Writing and English-Secondary Education major at Susquehanna University. Her work has previously appeared in Inside Pennsylvania and will be featured in this year's edition of RiverCraft. Her chapbook "Above the Surface" was published by Eunoia Press, a temporary press of Susquehanna University.